Tag Archives: RFC Ambrian

NextOre’s magnetic resonance tech up and running at First Quantum’s Kansanshi

Australia-based NextOre is onto another ore sorting assignment with its magnetic resonance (MR) sensing technology, this time in Zambia at First Quantum Minerals’ Kansanshi copper mine.

NextOre was originally formed in 2017 as a joint venture between CSIRO, RFC Ambrian and Worley, with its MR technology representing a leap forward in mineral sensing that provides accurate, whole-of-sample grade measurements, it says.

Demonstrated at mining rates of 4,300 t/h, per conveyor belt, the technology comes with no material preparation requirement and provides grade estimates in seconds, NextOre claims. This helps deliver run of mine grade readings in seconds, providing “complete transparency” for tracking downstream processing and allowing operations to selectively reject waste material.

Having initially successfully tested its magnetic resonance analysers (MRAs) at Newcrest’s Cadia East mine in New South Wales, Australia, the company has gone onto test and trial the innovation across the Americas and Asia.

More recently, it set up camp in Africa at First Quantum Minerals’ Kansanshi copper mine where it is hoping to show off the benefits of the technology in a trial.

The MRA in question was installed in January on the sulphide circuit’s 2,800 t/h primary crushed conveyor at Kansanshi, with the installation carried out with remote assistance due to COVID-19 restrictions on site.

Anthony Mukutuma, General Manager at First Quantum’s Kansanshi Mine in the Northwestern Province of Zambia, said the operation was exploring the use of MRAs for online ore grade analysis and subsequent possible sorting to mitigate the impacts of mining a complex vein-type orebody with highly variating grades.

“The installation on the 2,800 t/h conveyor is a trial to test the efficacy of the technology and consider engineering options for physical sorting of ore prior to milling,” he told IM.

Chris Beal, NextOre CEO, echoed Mukutuma’s words on grade variation, saying daily average grades at Kansanshi were on par with what the company might see in a bulk underground mine, but when NextOre looked at each individual measurement – with each four seconds representing about 2.5 t – it was seeing some “higher grades worthy of further investigation”.

“The local geology gives it excellent characteristics for the application of very fast measurements for bulk ore sorting,” he told IM.

Mukutuma said the initial aim of the trial – to validate the accuracy and precision of the MRA scanner – was progressing to plan.

“The next phase of the project is to determine options for the MRA scanner to add value to the overall front end of processing,” he said.

Beal was keen to point out that the MRA scanner setup at Kansanshi was not that much different to the others NextOre had operating – with the analyser still measuring copper in the chalcopyrite mineral phase – but the remote installation process was very different.

“Despite being carried out remotely, this installation went smoother than even some where we had a significant on-site presence,” he said. “A great deal of that smoothness can be attributed to the high competency of the Kansanshi team. Of course, our own team, including the sensing and sorting team at CSIRO, put in a huge effort to quickly pivot from the standard installation process, and also deserve a great deal of credit.”

Beal said the Kansanshi team were supplied with all the conventional technical details one would expect – mechanical drawings, assembly drawings, comprehensive commissioning instructions and animations showing assembly.

To complement that, the NextOre team made use of both the in-built remote diagnostic systems standard in each MRA and several remote scientific instruments, plus a Trimble XR10 HoloLens “mixed-reality solution” that, according to Trimble, helps workers visualise 3D data on project sites.

“The NextOre and CSIRO teams were on-line on video calls with the Kansanshi teams each day supervising the installation, monitoring the outputs of the analyser and providing supervision in real time,” Beal said. He said the Kansanshi team had the unit installed comfortably within the planned 12-hour shutdown window.

By the second week of February the analyser had more than 90% availability, Beal said in early April.

He concluded on the Kansanshi installation: “There is no question that we will use the remote systems developed during this project in each project going ahead, but, when it is at all possible, we will always have NextOre representatives on site during the installation process. This installation went very smoothly but we cannot always count on that being the case. And there are other benefits to having someone on site that you just cannot get without being there.

“That said, in the future, we expect that a relatively higher proportion of support and supervision can be done through these remote systems. More than anything, this will allow us to more quickly respond to events on site and to keep the equipment working reliably.”

Magnetite Mines up for NextOre magnetic resonance ore sorting pilot at Razorback

Having shown potential in lab-based test work to increase head grades at the Razorback project, NextOre’s magnetic resonance (MR) ore sorting technology is to now get an outing in South Australia at the high-grade iron ore development.

Razorback owner, Magnetite Mines, says it has entered into an agreement with NextOre to supply a mobile bulk ore sorting plant using a magnetic resonance (MR) sensor for a trial of the technology at the project.

The company said: “This advances our exclusive partnership with NextOre and is an important step in our journey to unlocking the potential of the Razorback project. The company is excited by the potential of the NextOre technology to enhance processing of by ‘pre-concentrating’ run of mine ore feed to increase plant head grade.”

The NextOre agreement includes a non-refundable deposit of A$100,000 ($71,418) and contemplates further, staged payments of A$700,000, Magnetite Mines says. The scope covers supply of a full-scale mobile ore sorting plant to site at Razorback for sorting magnetite ore using MR technology during the trial period for the purpose of mine feasibility analysis. The agreement includes milestone dates, with the equipment despatch from the CSIRO Lucas Heights facility, in New South Wales, expected in 2021.

Formed in 2017 by CSIRO, Advisian Digital and RFC Ambrian, NextOre supplies MR ore sorting solutions to global mining companies that applies mineral sensing technology developed by the CSIRO.

Unlike traditional ore sorting technologies that are based on X-ray or infra-red transmission, NextOre’s on-belt MR analyser ore sorting solution allows for the grade of high throughput ore to be measured at industry-leading accuracies and speeds, NextOre says. Due to the high speed of the technology, the integrative system is able to perform the analysis, computation and physical diversion of waste ores down to one second intervals allowing for fast diversion or high-resolution sorting.

As previously reported, the company entered into an exclusivity agreement with NextOre granting Magnetite Mines exclusive use of its MR ore sorting technology for any magnetite processing applications Australia-wide and all iron ore applications in the Braemar (including New South Wales) for a period of four years.

Magnetite Mines Chairman, Peter Schubert, said: “NextOre’s magnetic resonance sorting technology, developed over many years in conjunction with the CSIRO, has a rapid response time allowing unprecedented selection accuracy and speed. The result is potential for a substantial increase in the head grade of plant feed, resulting in lower unit operating costs and a significant improvement in capital efficiency.

“This technology also offers potential environmental benefits, with enhanced water efficiency and reduced tailings volumes.”

He added: “We are particularly interested in the potential of the NextOre technology to increase the grade of ore fed to the concentrator. The bulk trial of this exciting technology will contribute to the study work now underway.”

Chris Beal, CEO of NextOre said: “We are enthusiastic supporters of Magnetite Mines’ vision of unlocking the vast resources in South Australia’s Braemar region. Their disciplined approach, which leverages emerging technologies with well-established mining methodologies, is a testament to the team’s knowledge and experience in the field.

“In our collaborative planning, the Magnetite Mines methodology of carefully integrating mine and mill activities speaks strongly to the ability to generate the maximum value from bulk ore sorting solution. I am thrilled that NextOre can contribute to this transformative project and I look forward to jointly developing Australia’s reputation as a global leader in green resource extraction.”

Chrysos Corp completes PhotonAssay hat-trick at MinAnalytical Lab

Following on from the successful commissioning of its second PhotonAssay Max system earlier this year, Chrysos Corp says it has now completed commissioning of a third PhotonAssay Max system at the MinAnalytical laboratory in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.

The Chrysos PhotonAssay solution provides rapid, accurate, safe and non-destructive ore grade analysis and, with the installation of this new system, MinAnalytical’s Kalgoorlie facility now has the security of double-redundancy and the capacity to service customers with fast turnaround on up to 100,000 samples per month, Chrysos said.

The technology, which was developed by CSIRO, slashes the time it takes to analyse a drilling sample from days to hours, according to Chrysos, and is an alternative to the traditional fire assay process. It represents a chemical-free approach to material analysis that gives accurate results in minutes and uses a larger sample size than fire assay, with reduced sample preparation.
A further benefit is that the new process enables the sample to be tested repeatedly if required – unlike fire assay, which involves the destruction of the sample, the company says.

Arriving in Kalgoorlie in late October, the new PhotonAssay Max was installed by Chrysos and its manufacturing partner, Nuctech, and completed site acceptance testing in mid-November, with final sign-off occurring earlier this month.

“With NATA (National Association of Testing Authorities) accreditation of the new system expected in 2020, and a fully-automated sample preparation solution from Scott Automation incorporated by May, MinAnalytical’s Kalgoorlie laboratory represents the cutting edge of gold analysis and reporting,” the company said.

Chrysos was formed in 2016 in partnership between CSIRO and RFC Ambrian for the purpose of commercialising the PhotonAssay technology. Ausdrill has invested in Chrysos and is assisting in commercialising the company’s technology. Ausdrill, through its subsidiary MinAnalytical, was the first company in the world to offer the technology to mining companies.

NextOre’s ore sorting tech shows potential at Magnetite Mines’ Razorback project

Magnetite Mines Ltd says a study looking at applying NextOre’s on-belt magnetic resonance ore sorting solution at its Razorback Iron project, in South Australia, has shown the potential for a significant increase in plant throughput at the asset.

The ASX-listed company said results to date indicated that Razorback ores are especially well suited to bulk ore sorting with substantial improvements to ore mass recovery demonstrated in the study, completed by NextOre (a partnership between CSIRO and industry players Advisian and RFC Ambrian).

NextOre’s solution uses an on-conveyor magnetic resonance sensor to continually sense the grade of the material on the belt. This information is used to control a diverter gate that separates material above the selected cutoff grade (accepted material) from material below that grade (rejected material).

Magnetite Mines and NextOre, in October, signed an agreement that allows the development company exclusivity over any magnetite processing applications, Australia-wide, and all iron ore applications in the Braemar (including New South Wales) for a period of four years.

NextOre’s Razorback report demonstrates that the heterogeneity of the Razorback and Iron Peak resources allows for the potential for significant upgrading from ore sorting, Magnetite Mines said.

“For example, at a 50% rejection level (corresponding to a cutoff grade of approximately 16% Fe at Iron Peak and 14% Fe at Razorback), the grade of the accepted material would be increased by a factor of about 1.4,” the company said.

Were this to be implemented as part of a development of the project, by increasing mining rates, and pre-concentrating the plant feed, the throughput of a given plant capacity could be increased by some 40%, the company said. This would create significant savings in capital and operating costs per tonne of concentrate product, it added.

In order to assess the potential for bulk ore sorting at Razorback, NextOre used data drawn from the overall geological model for the Razorback and Iron Peak resources (the two resources that make up the Razorback project). The Razorback project currently has an inferred and indicated resource of 2,732 Mt at a grade of 18.2% Fe, but Magnetite Mines intends to produce a 68.8% Fe concentrate from the project.

NextOre then applied a fractal model, applying a mixing model to assess the predicted grade variation or heterogeneity of ‘pods’ of ore as they would present to an on-conveyor bulk ore sorting implementation, Magnetite Mines explained. Various sorting cutoff grades were selected to demonstrate a range of grade improvement scenarios, the company noted.

Magnetite Mines said: “Following the recently completed scoping study for a low capital cost, staged development of the Razorback project resources, this study highlights the applicability of NextOre’s magnetic resonance bulk ore sorting technology to the processing of the Razorback ores.

“When applied to a large, heterogeneous, low strip ratio deposit, such as Razorback, bulk ore sorting represents a pre-concentration technology ahead of the concentrator that can enhance throughput, improve economic efficiency and reduce tailings and water use.”

Magnetite Mines Chairman, Peter Schubert, said: “While our scoping study results for a low capital, staged development have been highly encouraging, we are now confident that the use of leading edge ore sorting technology can further enhance results, providing the company with a sustainable competitive advantage.”

Magnetite Mines and NextOre sign ore sorting exclusivity pact

Magnetite Mines Ltd says it has entered into an exclusivity agreement with ore sorting technology company NextOre to use its leading-edge magnetic resonance ore sorting technology for pre-concentration of magnetite and iron ore projects.

The terms of the agreement include exclusive use for any magnetite processing applications Australia-wide and all iron ore applications in the Braemar (including New South Wales) for a period of four years.

Formed in 2017 by RFC Ambrian, Advisian Digital and the CSIRO, NextOre aims to commercialise magnetic resonance ore sorting technology, an on-belt mineral sensing technology developed by the CSIRO. The technology uses a magnetic resonance analyser (MRA), a form of radio frequency spectroscopy, for the quantitative measurement of target ore minerals.

The use of the MRA allows for a high throughput, high accuracy bulk sorting application that is typically added to the front-end of a processing flow sheet to divert waste ores away before processing, according to Magnetite Mines. “This has the effect of improving mining grades by pre-concentrating the ore that will be subject to processing, whilst rejecting significant tonnages of low-grade material to tailings via a diversion method such as a chute flop gate or dead box diverter.”

The theorised result of ore sorting is a reduced volume of upgraded ore that performs better in the processing plant while reducing processing costs as nil-value material that would ordinarily be subject to downstream processing is rejected early on, according to the company.

“Unlike traditional ore sorting technologies that are based on X-ray or infra-red transmission, NextOre’s on-belt MRA ore sorting solution allows for the grade of high throughput ore to be measured at industry-leading accuracies and speeds. Due to the high speed of the technology, the integrative system is able to perform the analysis, computation and physical diversion of waste ores down to 1 second intervals allowing for fast diversion or high resolution sorting.”

Magnetite Mines Chairman, Peter Schubert, said: “We see great potential for technology to unlock a step change in competitiveness of our Razorback iron project (pictured). NextOre has completed an initial mathematical assessment based on our extensive geological data and the results are encouraging.”

Schubert said the company was moving to bulk test work to prove its application in its Razorback iron project, which has generated some 3,900 Mt of iron ore resources and has over 110 km of unexplored strike. The company believes it will be able to produce a 68.8% Fe concentrate from the project.

He added: “NextOre’s magnetic resonance sorting technology, developed over many years in conjunction with the CSIRO, has a rapid response time allowing unprecedented selection accuracy and speed.

“The result is a substantial increase in the head grade of plant feed, resulting in lower unit operating costs and a significant improvement in capital efficiency. But the application of this technology also gives environmental benefits, with enhanced water efficiency and lower tailings levels.”

Razorback already has advantages of scale, proximity to established ports, proximity to rail and shallow stripping, according to Schubert, “but the NextOre technology takes the competitiveness of the resource to another level”.

The company has initiated a desktop study of NextOre’s ore sorting solution with initial results to-date being very positive, it said.

Initial analysis of the macro-scale heterogeneity of the Razorback iron project JORC 2012 mineral resources indicates that the orebodies are suited to the application of ore sorting.

“The highly selective technology is particularly well suited to magnetite measurement and can be calibrated for several mineral types,” it said. “Further test work is envisaged in the near future in aid of refining the existing flowsheet.”

Chris Beal, CEO of NextOre, said: “The Braemar Province is really an astonishingly vast mineralogical system and represents an incredible potential for value. Owing in large part to the way nature arranged its geology, the system appears particularly well suited to the application of bulk ore sorting systems.

“In terms of reductions in water and electricity consumption, tailings dam size reductions, and overall plant efficiencies, the application of bulk ore sorting has the potential to impact developments in the region in a significant way.”

Mine sites testing out CSIRO, Mining3’s precision mining concept

CSIRO and Mining3’s wide-ranging precision mining concept looks to be gaining momentum with multiple mining companies testing out aspects of this innovative notion to reduce the footprint of future mine sites.

Among the headlines from the organisations’ latest report on this technology was its ore sorting technology, NextOre, has three trials underway at mine sites, with up to three more systems to be delivered this year.

A Chilean copper mine is testing up to 10 types of sensors, complementing other recent trials in Australia and CSIRO desktop studies. Another study found that a mining company could make the same profit as it is now, but with a 30% reduction in capital and operating costs.

In this pursuit, the mining industry can learn a lot from medical science, according to CSIRO Research Director in Precision Mining and Mining3 Research Leader, Ewan Sellers.

As the CSIRO rock mechanics specialist says, modern medicine has used technology to better understand and treat illnesses and injuries while reducing the impact on people. Sellers is now working towards creating low impact “zero entry mines”.

CSIRO explains: “Precision mining is the industry’s version of keyhole surgery. Once a deposit is discovered, precision mining aims to target the ore and extract the deposit as economically and sustainably as possible.”

CSIRO and Mining3’s shared vision is for mines of the future to be mostly underground, remotely operated by robotics, with minimal or remote offices and a very small environmental footprint. All waste would be used to make other products.

Sellers believes this vision could become a reality for most mines within 20 years, as vast mining operations that leave large scars are consigned to history.

Minerals 4D

Key to enabling precision mining is a concept CSIRO is leading called Minerals 4D.

Minerals 4D ‘intelligence’ aims to image minerals in the subsurface and predict their distribution. By integrating sensors and specialised imaging techniques tied with data analysis and machine learning, miners can better understand the orebody and quantify the rock mass at multiple scales.

Precise cutting, blasting and in-mine processing techniques can then accurately target the ore and leave the waste behind. Miners can focus on the most economic part of the deposit, reducing the need to move, crush and process massive amounts of rock, saving significant amounts of energy, water and waste.

CSIRO said: “Although information about the grade of the material and type of rock may currently be known over a block or at mine scale, Minerals 4D aims to add information about the mineralogy at a much smaller scale. This will enable companies to target the orebody and characterise the rock mass more accurately to increase efficiency at the processing plant.”

Rob Hough, the Science Director for CSIRO Mineral Resources, says Minerals 4D is about adding a time series to three-dimensional (3D) data. Essentially, it’s about tracking mineralogy over time.

The mining industry is now capable, through its geophysical sensing technology, to create extremely accurate 3D spatial models of orebodies, but 4D adds in the critical time element – tracking that mineralogy through the metal production line as if it were a barcode in a manufacturing circuit.

The concept involves linking modular mining operations to sensors – including fibre optics and systems attached to robots – to precisely characterise material in the subsurface before mining, through to a mine face, bench, conveyor, stockpile, truck, train or a ship.

Then you can measure the chemistry, mineralogy and rock structures at a range of scales, and provide unprecedented detail and volumes of data that capture ore and waste variability. Measuring the mineralogy is critical to understanding the quality, so where the value is created and lost.

This is like the artificial intelligence algorithms that companies such as Petra Data Science are developing to track ore from the pit to the processing plant.

A focus on value, rather than volume, means less waste and emissions in this context.

“If you have the knowledge of what you’re dealing with in a 3D picture you can then start to make predictions as to how minerals will perform when you go to mine, through to process and beneficiation,” Hough says.

“Operators can choose one set of mining or processing systems over another, knowing the texture and hardness of a material. We need to understand what is in the rock mass in terms of the minerals, but also how hard it is, its strength and how it breaks up to best separate the ore from the waste rock.”

Drone-deployed sensors

It is now possible to produce a detailed face map of a mine, fly a drone with spectral sensors to image surface mineralogy and use data analytics to identify correlations between ore types and rock strength. X-ray diffraction is also being used for analysis. These instruments are applied to samples in the field, drill holes and at bespoke laboratories that run thousands of samples at a low cost in order to build a 3D mineralogy model.

“We have a range of sensors available, but we don’t yet have a fully ‘sensed’ mine,” Hough adds.

“What we’re missing is all sensors in place, in a given operation. We’re also missing the assembling of data to inform decision making throughout the process as it happens – we need that information conveyed in real time and viewed in our remote operations centres.”

Advanced sensor-based ore-sorting

CSIRO partnered with RFC Ambrian and Advisian Digital to launch joint venture, NextOre, to deliver a sensor that intelligently directs a conveyor – sorting valuable ore from waste. CSIRO said NextOre has three trials of the sensor system underway at mine sites, with up to three more systems to be delivered this year.

“On the back of better data, we should be able to take advantage of applied mathematics that will then allow us to move to artificial intelligence and machine learning,” Hough says. “I can see a real-time conveyor belt start making automatic decisions about what is coming down the line. It’s the ultimate sensing and sorting solution.”

Reducing energy and water use

Sellers believes a move to precision mining can improve the conditions for communities living nearby mines, and even improve the social acceptance of mining.

He said several companies are testing out the value cases of sensors and data integration, and he understands they need to see proof that precision mining works on the ground. The economic benefits of sensing were demonstrated recently at a Western Australia iron ore mine, where A$25 million ($17 million) of additional resources were discovered using data provided by a relatively inexpensive hyperspectral sensor, according to CSIRO.

A Chilean copper mine is testing up to 10 types of sensors, complementing other recent trials in Australia and CSIRO desktop studies, it said. Another study found a mining company could make the same profit as it is now, but with a 30% reduction in capital and operating costs.

“Once miners gain confidence that we can actually do this, I think it will take off very quickly,” he says.

Precision mineral exploration and discovery

Beyond the mine itself, tracking minerals over time – in 4D – will also benefit greenfields exploration upstream.

According to CSIRO Digital Expert, Ryan Fraser, implementing the Minerals 4D concept is at its most challenging at the exploration and discovery stage – the point where data are sparse, and little is known about a potential target orebody.

“For example, we know a lot about a deposit such as Mount Isa, including how it forms. So, can we use the intelligence we have of that mineral system to foresee where the next Mount Isa will be?” he asks.

Fraser says if we understand how mineralogy evolves over time and the overall geological process, we can then look for signatures across the Australian landscape that help to identify similar things.

“Normally you drill in these spots, take back samples, check data and then in about two years you might have some idea of what’s under the surface and have some idea of mineral boundaries.”

The new sampling techniques will be far quicker and more efficient, he says.

“Instead of sampling a sparse, evenly spaced grid, we use machine learning to reduce uncertainties and guide where to sample and that will enable us to do much smarter edge detection of mineral boundaries,” Fraser explains.

Already this kind of predictive work has been tested in a project for the South Australian (SA) government at Coompana in SA with surprisingly accurate results and significant cost savings over traditional methods, according to CSIRO.

Other key challenges that researchers and the industry are working to address to make this a reality, include designing and developing sensors robust enough to work effectively in the mining environment (for example, in robotic cutting machines) and across rock types, and understanding which sites in the mine process are most suitable for sensors.

CSIRO concluded: “These sensors will be linked to precise and automated drilling, cutting and blasting technologies under development through Mining3 to transform the way that mining is performed.”

NextOre to ramp up bulk ore sorting sensor development with new funds

NextOre says it has raised A$2 million ($1.35 million) in a private funding round primarily to ramp up manufacturing and sales of its flagship bulk ore sorting sensor system.

The company’s products apply magnetic resonance (MR) technology, used for decades in medical MRI machines, to deliver real-time information about ore that miners can use for decision making.

Copper-detecting MR Analysers have been installed globally at mines in Latin America and Australia, with more scheduled for installation this year. While NextOre is focusing initially on copper sorting applications, the MR technology is applicable to a list of other commodities including iron ore and gold, according to NextOre. Funds raised will be used to grow the company’s global footprint from its existing customer base, the company said.

The MR Analyser is the result of nearly 15 years of research and development carried out by CSIRO Minerals Resources. NextOre, a spinoff from CSIRO, is now a partnership between CSIRO and RFC Ambrian, with the two joined by Advisian Digital.

Chris Beal, CEO of NextOre, said: “With this technology, miners will be able to mine more intelligently. Miners have historically innovated by going bigger – bigger trucks, bigger processing facilities, bigger mines – they’ve been forced to do this because there hasn’t been a technology that would allow them to look at the rock while it’s being mined, see how much metal is in it, and then efficiently make a decision on whether to keep it or throw it away.”

He said the company’s technology will enable miners to produce more metal using “smaller, more efficient plants” that consume less electricity, water and chemicals in the process.

Beal continued: “This is truly disruptive technology for the mining space, and it’s brought about by a team at CSIRO with a world-class track record. This is the same group that was instrumental in developing XRF for the minerals industry in the 1960s and 1970s, who developed on-stream ash analysers in use across the coal industry, and who developed the cutting edge PhotonAssay technology that’s now replacing fire assay.”

Mine automation starting to take hold, RFC Ambrian says

In its second report in a series on innovation and new technology in the mining industry, RFC Ambrian has tackled the subject of autonomous mining equipment, which, the authors say, has reached an “important level of maturity”.

The report considered both surface and underground equipment, but most notably surface mine haulage trucks where there has been an area of significant focus for major mining companies.

As the authors said: “This has reached an important level of maturity, although it is still evolving and its penetration across the industry is still in its infancy.”

AHS

The Autonomous Haulage Systems (AHS) have evolved from improvements in GPS for positioning and navigation, developments in sensors and detection –particularly radar and LiDAR, improved computing power and on-board monitoring, faster and more reliable networks and internet connection, and the development of effective and accurate algorithms and software, the authors said.

“AHS has appeared , first, at large mine operations where the benefits have the largest impacts, due to the high component of fixed costs in an AHS operation, and in developed countries where there is a shortage of skilled workers and labour costs are higher,” they said.

Outlining the potential benefits of AHS is straightforward, but finding hard data to support it is more difficult, according to the authors.

“Companies have made suggestions about the scale of improvement, but they are light on detail, definitions are not clear, and the data varies between companies,” the authors said.

Suggested improvements in productivity have come from Caterpillar (15-20%), Fortescue Metals Group (30%), Komatsu (15%), and Rio Tinto (15%), according to the authors.

“These improvements are still meaningful, and corporate companies would argue that every mine is different and that the mining companies and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that have so far implemented AHS have the right to guard this proprietary information and hold on to the competitive advantage,” the authors said.

Autonomy in other surface equipment

The authors said they are also now seeing this same technology used to automate other operations in the surface mine. This includes drill rigs, dozers, loaders and ancillary equipment.

“Much of this equipment is currently, at best, semi-autonomous, although a few mines have implemented fully-autonomous drill rigs and dozers,” they noted.

“Moving this equipment to full autonomy offers significant production improvements, although the scale of actual savings is not likely to be as great as those achieved with AHS,” the authors said.

“However, we have not yet seen quantified the downstream benefits of the resultant improved drilling and blasting.

“The automation of earth moving machines provides another step to increased productivity within the mine. However, loaders face additional challenges as a result of the variability of the loading face and the risk of collisions with the haulage trucks.”

Due to the complex nature of the bucket-media interaction, developing automatic loading functions that are better than or equal to expert manual drivers with regard to performance is a highly difficult task, according to the authors.

“As a result, fully-autonomous loading is not yet commercially available. Some observers suggest that the implementation of fully-autonomous surface loading is still some five years away, while others believe that full automation is unlikely.”

Underground mining

When it comes to underground mining, the authors of the report said, as with surface mining, full autonomy remains the goal.

“Mining companies and contractors are constantly looking to use technological developments to better utilise their investment in equipment and human resources and improve safety,” the authors said. “Particular features of traditional underground mines are: long unproductive periods caused by re-entry times required for operators after blasting; and higher health and safety risks due to geotechnical and environmental challenges.

“The use of autonomy underground aims to increase the productivity of the equipment and improve the safety of the operators.”

While the aims remain the same, full autonomy in the underground mine is not as advanced as in the surface mine, according to the authors.

“Haul trucks are used less frequently in underground mines, although a few mines are using haul trucks with AHS. More underground mines perform a short cycle of loading, hauling and dumping from a draw point to a tipping point with LHD equipment.

“Implementation of autonomous systems underground for LHDs is occurring, however, as with surface loading, one of the major hurdles to automating LHDs is replacing human judgement required for filling the bucket.”

This has seen full autonomy being used for the hauling and dumping cycle, but semi-autonomy usually used for loading, according to the authors. “Successful trials of fully- autonomous LHDs have been achieved and Sandvik i-series now offers an automated bucket filling assistant as a standard function,” they said.

Underground drilling operations, meanwhile, are achieving increased levels of autonomy but are also presently only semi-autonomous.

Robotic rail operations

The authors then looked at autonomous rail haulage systems, a segment of the market that has gained in prominence in the past few years thanks to initiatives such as Rio Tinto’s AutoHaul in the Pilbara of Western Australia.

The authors said: “There has been some form of automation on worldwide metro systems for many years, but one area where autonomous technology has yet to gain a foothold is rail freight. Trials are underway in Holland and Germany but implementing autonomous train driving on a complex rail network, with passenger trains and freight trains, is more difficult than on a metro system.”

The one exception to this is in the mining sector and AutoHaul, they said, where Rio has completed commissioning of the world’s first fully-autonomous, long distance, heavy-haul rail network which is now in full operation.

Pace of implementation

Despite the acclaimed success and the relative level of maturity of the technology, the wider implementation of AHS does not appear to be happening very fast, the authors argue.

“The systems of both the two main suppliers (Caterpillar and Komatsu) are well proven and have delivered positive results, although, according to consultants, both systems also have examples of less-than-expected performance.

“Nevertheless, the technical issues appear relatively minor and there is interest right across the industry but, in spite of the potentially significant benefits, more mines are not now using AHS.”

There are a number of likely reasons for this, the authors said, explaining that one of the most important is a lack of skilled personnel.

“We believe there is a lack of in-depth knowledge of the technology and limited personnel with the requisite experience, skills, and training throughout the industry’s hierarchy,” they said.

“Further, there is a shortage of skilled autonomous operators, developers, and consultants, some of who are moving to the autonomous auto market.”

Important factors in the success of AHS appear to be the level of management commitment, planning, and focus in the implementation, with the best results reported from well-operated mining sites, the authors said.

“Another factor is likely to be limitations on equipment supply from OEMs for new equipment and truck conversions, either due to manufacturing backlogs or maybe market caution, limiting investment. This is allowing the OEMs to be more selective in their customers.”

The authors cautioned: “However, if the existing suppliers do not develop additional capacity quick enough this could create opportunities for additional entrants in to the market.”

Capital availability in the mining industry could also be an issue holding back AHS advancement, they said, although it is less tight than it has been in recent years.

“Certainly, some lower-margin operations might struggle to finance the capital, although the uplift in relative profitability could be transformational, with relatively quick paybacks,” they said.
And the historical conservatism of the mining industry is also likely to be a factor, the authors said.

“There is still a natural reluctance within the industry to adopt new or unproven technology due to the high capital cost involved and the potential operational and reputational risks involved.

“This will be compounded if the organisation has limited experience and limited access to the technology.”

You can read the full report here.

NextOre looks to Canada, South America for ore grade analyser sales

CSIRO has issued an update on its NextOre joint venture, with the organisation saying it has identified some 35% of global copper production where the ore grade analyser could potentially extend mine life.

RFC Ambrian and CSIRO, along with Advisian Digital, announced a partnership last year to commercialise the technology.

NextOre takes advantage of magnetic resonance technology, with the analyser rapidly identifying ore grade so that large volumes of waste rock can be rejected before entering the plant.

By illuminating batches of ore with short pulses of radio waves, magnetic resonance penetrates through copper ores – much like medical MRI ‘sees into’ human bodies – to rapidly and accurately detect ore grade. The process significantly reduces the amount of energy and water needed for processing.

“While the productivity benefits vary depending on the characteristics of the orebody, the analyser has the potential to more than double average ore grades once sorted. It could represent as much as a 20% reduction in processing costs in some copper mines,” CSIRO said.

CSIRO research director Nick Cutmore said the partners had so far identified 59 mature copper mining sites where the analyser could be applied to extend their life – the quoted 35% of global copper production.

“The solution could also enable undeveloped, low grade mines to be brought into production, so the economic benefits are huge,” he said.

In its first year (July 1, 2018-June 30, 2019) NextOre will focus on engaging the South American and Canadian market.

This is already starting to see results, according to NextOre CEO Chris Beal.

“Contracts have been secured to provide magnetic resonance analysers to three companies, including two top-tier producers, in the coming financial year,” he said.

“We are providing full ore sorting solutions, including technical and engineering advice, to move from concept to site trials and final implementation.”

In addition to copper, the magnetic resonance analyser can be applied to gold and iron-bearing ores.

NextOre is another recent commercialisation story for CSIRO and RFC Ambrian, who together established Chrysos Corp in late 2016 to market an x-ray-based gold analysis solution.